Possessives show ownership. Forming possessives is a complex issue. If you follow the rules below, this issue will be less confusing.
- Animate objects
Form the possessive only on nouns or pronouns that represent living things, celestial bodies, time, distance, or value.
- Elizabeth's business card (living thing)
- the plant's leaves (living thing)
- the moon's light (celestial body)
- three months' rent (time)
- a day's journey (distance)
- a penny's worth (value)
- The desk drawer is stuck. OR The drawer of the desk is stuck.
Form the possessive of most singular common or proper nouns by adding an apostrophe and an –s.
- student's notebook
- witness's statement
- Charles's car
- Moses’ law
- Jesus’ followers
- Achilles’ heel
- Xerses’ army
- for goodness' sake
- for appearance' sake
- for convenience' sake
- Plural nouns not ending in s
Form the possessive of plural nouns that do not end in an –s or an –s sound by adding an apostrophe and an –s. Form the possessive of plural nouns that end in an –s or an –s sound by adding only the apostrophe.
- children's books
- the people's princess
- men's clothing
- students' lounge
- my two brothers' cars
- teachers' union
- Make a word plural
To make a word plural and possessive, form the plural first, then add an apostrophe.
- Incorrect: the Rains house or the Rain’s house
- Correct: the Rainses’ house
- Incorrect: the Gomez car or the Gomez’s car
- Correct: the Gomezes’ car
- Show joint ownership
To show joint ownership, form the possessive on the last word; to show individual ownership, form the possessive on both words.
- Joint Ownership: Jon and Kathy's dogs (The dogs belong to both of them.)
- Individual Ownership: Jon's and Kathy's dogs (Each person owns one or more dogs individually.)
- Verb ending in -ing
Use a possessive noun or pronoun before a verb that ends in –ing.
- Jill was pleased by Natalie's returning on time.
- Compound words of phrases
With a compound word or phrase, form the possessive by adding an apostrophe and an –s to the last word.
- my brother–in–law's car
- chairman of the board's name
Add an apostrophe and an –s to form the possessive of the pronouns anyone, anybody, everyone, everybody, someone, somebody, no one, and nobody.
- Anyone's guess is as good as mine.
- Somebody's keys were left on the counter.
- The dog lost its bone.
- My car was clean; hers was very dirty.
- When ownership is implied
Use a possessive if ownership is implied, even if the possession itself is not stated in the sentence.
- We will all meet at Alice's for dinner.
- Businesses and organizations
Businesses, organizations, and educational institutions may or may not use apostrophes with their names to show possession. Follow the organization's format or usage.
- St. John's College
- Regents College
Use the rules above to form the possessive of abbreviations.
- The M.D.'s stethoscope
- Brooks Bros.' sale